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Just last week, the crowdfunding drive to build a wall along America’s southern border was picking up steam, collecting more than $20 million towards its $1 billion goal.
Now, the charity website GoFundMe, where the campaign was hosted, says the money collected will be refunded as the veteran behind the fundraiser unveiled a new plan for the cash.
GoFundMe says changes made by the fundraiser’s organizers prompted the refunds, as they announced the money would be given to a new nonprofit organization and not the federal government, as they originally planned.
The fundraiser is also far short of its goal, after raising just 2% of its planned $1 billion.
“When the campaign was created, the campaign organizer specifically stated on the campaign page, ‘If we don’t reach our goal or come significantly close we will refund every single penny,'” GoFundMe told CNN.
“He also stated on the campaign page, ‘100% of your donations will go to the Trump Wall. If for ANY reason we don’t reach our goal we will refund your donation.'”
“This did not happen. That means all donors will receive a refund.”
While contributors can choose to apply their donation to the new plan, anyone who does not will automatically receive a refund from the website.
It’s unclear when refunds will be offered for those who sent checks to a UPS store in Castle Rock, Colorado, which was listed as an alternative to the online fundraiser. Organizers told The Denver Post that anyone who sent a donation by check will be sent a letter offering them a choice: send their donation to the new private fundraiser, or receive a refund.
As of Monday morning, the original page was still up and accepting donations – GoFundMe says the campaign’s organizer will be the one to determine when it’s shut down.
Air Force veteran Brian Kolfage started the campaign last month with the simple goal of paying for President Trump’s proposed wall with public donations (it’s unclear whether this is actually possible to begin with).
Kolfage now says that the federal government – currently in the midst of America’s longest government shutdown ever – will not be able to accept donations “anytime soon.” Instead, he plans to hire a private team to build the wall.
Kolfage announced he had founded a non-profit corporation in Florida named “We Build the Wall, Inc.” and directed the project’s backers to send their money there instead of the GoFundMe page.
In an update, Kolfage claimed that his “highly experienced team” could build “significant segments of the wall in less time, and for far less money, than the federal government, while meeting or exceeding all required regulatory, engineering, and environmental specifications.”
“When I created this fundraiser, I said if we did not reach our goal we will refund donors,” he wrote. “I am honoring that commitment today. We will promptly refund your donation unless you tell us you approve our new plan for action.”
NBC News reported that Kolfage has a history of starting failed GoFundMe campaigns and harvesting email addresses to target conservative-leaning donors.
NBC reports that the millions of addresses collected Kolfage have allegedly been used to encourage people to support his own businesses, including a coffee brand he owns.
BuzzFeed News reported that a previous GoFundMe page started by Kolfage raised thousands of dollars for a military mentorship program. But sources at the facilities linked to the fundraiser said there was no record of Kolfage giving them any money.
More than 340,000 people donated to the GoFundMe campaign in less than a month, raising $20.4 million, so far.
Did you donate to the fundraiser? And if so, will you be claiming your refund?